WHEN SOMEONE DESCRIBES THEMSELVES AS AN ‘IRREDEEMABLE CAPITALIST’—I PAY ATTENTION.
MOST WHO I HAVE MET, WHO DESCRIBE THEMSELVES IN SUCH A WAY, ARE EXACTLY THAT (motivated by little else than greed)—BUT SEEM TO THINK THAT THEIR HONESTY ON THAT PARTICULAR POINT COMPENSATES FOR THEIR LACK OF INTEGRITY IN OTHER MATTERS.
The American version of Irredeemable capitalism—the American Business Model—is proving to be disastrous for the U.S. The evidence is increasingly clear that some kind of societal breakdown is taking place. And mortality is way higher than it should be. The ABM is killing Americans in large numbers.
It’s very odd that we can’t read each other’s minds—though we often pretend (particularly where we know someone really well) that we can. I think it is an illusion—partly because I am far from sure than many of us know what we ourselves are thinking—let alone anyone else.
I also wonder how much people do really think—as in applying the full force of their intellect to understand an issue—then determine, and implement, a course of action, if such is required.
I cling to the (perhaps optimistic) notion that the human mind is a largely untapped resource—a power—which I like to think that at some stage in human development (we are certainly not there yet), we will learn how to use to much greater effect than we do do now.
It can be hard to maintain that view at times, but then I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things—and cannot but wonder what we might be capable of if our innate creativity was encouraged. As matters stand, it is not. A quite disproportionate amount of human energy is devoted to endeavoring to control and use others (for their own good, of course) rather than to encourage them.
Conveniently, a great deal of life, for many of us, is reactive, so you don’t have to do much thinking. You just let your muscle-memory take over, and mostly it does an adequate job. It is also a great deal easier than consciously thinking. It is more reflex than effort. This applies whether you are a plumber or a physician. I’m using the term ‘muscle memory’ in the broadest sense. In fact, you may have to do a great deal more thinking if you are a plumber. Installing pipes is decidedly more complex than writing a prescription for a drug.
I also don’t share this bias against working with your hands. People constantly comment on how long it takes to become a doctor (for instance)—which is why they are justified in charging the fees they do—but I’m pretty sure it takes equally long to become a really good carpenter, or stone mason, or archer.
It may take a little longer to become a good writer.
I’m pondering all this because I’m trying to work out why we devote so little effort to trying to understand—let alone improve—the social structures that largely govern our lives. Since they were devised by people, they can be changed by people, or so one might think. And yet, we largely behave as if our social structures are immutable. We tinker on the margins, but we seem remarkably reluctant to either question, or change them, in any fundamental way.
Instead, it seems to be our habit to either ignore them (as in: “I’m not interested politics,”) adopt an ideology or religion—often both (which means thinking is not required) or display a casual interest (but rarely make the effort to think matters through).
I’m saying this based upon observation and deduction. For all I know, the rubbish (I’m being a little harsh here)that people watch on TV is a cunning plot to hide the fact that they spend most evenings being veritable Einsteins. But, I have my doubts—including the fact that we ignore so many problems, even when the solutions are readily apparent (and, in many case, proven).
My mantra for that situation is: The answers are out there, if you care to look. Clearly—based upon what we do, not what we say—most of us are not prepared to look. Either it is too much like hard work—or it violates some vested interest. Or maybe, we just don’t care.
So what are social these structures that so influence and govern our lives?
The following would seem to comprise an 80 percent solution.
- Economic System.
- Political System.
- Information System.
The key questions regarding any social system are straightforward:
- Does it work as well as it might (within the limits of the human condition)?
- If it doesn’t, how can we improve it?
Culture is the generally accepted social norm (which doesn’t mean everyone agrees)—and is notoriously hard to change except through strong leadership. It is dominated by values—whether they be good or bad.
Myth and prejudice play a surprising strong role in all cultures—but particularly in the U.S.—partly for historical reasons, and partly because of the particular significance of U.S. movies and TV which have projected an image of the country that has long been different from reality.
This massively promoted media self-image has tended to promote a delusion of intrinsic U.S. superiority which is not supported by the facts. It has deceived both Americans themselves, and much of the world. for decades.
Where Americans are concerned, it has led to the notion that virtually anything American must be superior—so the rest of the world isn’t worth learning from (even though their goods may be worth buying if they are cheaper).
Well, whoever said people were consistent.
Most problems can be traced back to cultural flaws so that when I criticize the current American Business Model—which I do fairly regularly (and with some vigor)—what I am really doing is questioning the U.S. culture (also known as the American Way of Life).
It has many strengths, but, right now, its flaws seem to outweigh them—and, most crucially, it isn’t delivering for the vast majority of the American people.
The American Way of Life is proving to be massively and tragically flawed—and inferior to a whole host of proven, working, alternatives—as judged under a wide variety of headings from health and longevity, to education and quality of life. It is even failing on strictly materialistic grounds. It isn’t delivering the material.
If inflation is factored in, most Americans are seeing their incomes decline in real terms. The earning power of most Americans has scarcely increased in 40 years. Even now, at a time of supposedly full employment (according to many economists that figure is reached when unemployment drops to 5 percent) wages and salaries just are not increasing.
So, what is wrong with the American Way of Life?
- It is money-driven and materialistic to excess.
- It is profoundly selfish.
- It is egregiously unfair.
- It is socially unconcerned to a degree that Europeans, for instance, find very hard to grasp.
- It is cruel and oppressive in many ways.
- It is obsessively violent—both internally and on the global stage.
- It is ignorant (in that although the U.S. is scarcely short of talent in many areas, not enough people seem to know enough—particularly about what is succeeding in other countries—to make it work). Without question, some of that ignorance is deliberate.
U.S ECONOMIC SYSTEM
The purpose of an economic system is to allocate resources in the most efficient way—each according to his needs, and so on.
Clearly a certain amount of equity has to be involved because if only one player gains all the marbles, there is no game. Secondly, people tend to have some sense of fairness though that tends to a matter of “All people are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
But the bottom line tends to be that some degree of equity has to be factored in. Or else you get the American and French Revolutions (though normally after a long gestation period).
That equity is largely missing in the U.S. right now.
Given the complexity of the world and the eccentricities of people—not to mention the sheer numbers involved--this task of allocating resources is so ferociously complicated that it is generally considered more efficient for groups and individuals to work out things for themselves than to try and do this centrally.
So far, the best compromise that has been worked out has been for governments to set the overall goals, but for private corporations and individuals to do most of the implementation—with government stepping in every now and then to do something it seems better equipped to do—or which the private sector just does not want to handle.
The best version of the best compromise economic system—and all are compromises and far from prefect—is the Northern European version of capitalism. Total up all the countries which practice it—and you end up with a larger population than the U.S. The argument that the U.S. is too large to practice Social Capitalism is specious (it is merely more propaganda).
U.S. POLITICAL SYSTEM
A political system is how everything else gets done if there is more than one person involved (though I guess—at a stretch—a single conflicted individual could be considered to have political issues).
But, let’s not go there.
Essentially, a political system is about cooperating to get results. The term is generally used in the context of governance (though politics is certainly not confined to government). Historically, that cooperation has been enforced by emperors, kings, czars, warlords and other rulers. Cooperation doesn’t have to be voluntary.
Society has ways of making you cooperate! It is ever ingenious. If you are a witch, we’ll burn you—and you can co-operate spiritually.
Today, we like to think we are more civilized—and most developed countries utilize democracy—a system based upon electing representatives and sometimes overall leaders as well.
Authoritarianism certainly hasn’t vanished. The new barons, as ambitious, self-serving, and devious as ever, have morphed into being heads of things—corporations, government departments, universities. They still have their followers and enforcers—and are as autocratic as ever. Less has changed than we may think—and much less than we might wish.
The underlying ethos of a democratic political system, whose representatives are elected on the one-person one- vote principle, is supposed to be that it serves the needs of all the people as fairly as is possible, provides a safety net for the less fortunate, advances the economic wellbeing of all, and steadily improves their quality of life.
An underlying assumption is that its elections should be conducted fairly. After all, if everyone doesn’t get an equal opportunity to vote, and/or the elections are fixed in some way, then the chances of the elected being fair are likely to be reduced.
The tragedy of the American political system is that it is flawed from gullet to zatch (don’t ask!) in too many ways to list here.
The candidates are picked and financed by the ultra-rich, and other special interests, the less fortunate are imprisoned, classified as felons so deprived of voting rights (normally for life) and otherwise hindered from voting (in numerous petty but effective ways), gerrymandering is rife, and only donors are really listened to by the elected. Above all, money dominates the entire process.
Given that the electoral process is, in itself, deeply flawed, the fact that the rest of doesn’t work too well should scarcely be a surprise.
It is, quite blatantly, a rigged system—and it is rigged in favor of the ultra-rich. They started their offensive against democracy (for that is what it is) back in the early 70s and it continues to this day.
As a consequence, the ultra-rich are doing extraordinarily well—and most other Americans are screwed.
As for the U.S. as a whole, it is in decline. The ultra-rich are winning the war but at the cost of destroying the country. They don’t care. They have their own nationality, agenda, priorities, and options. They are rich.
I’m using the phrase ‘Information System’ in this context to cover a broad spread of information sources—including those stemming from education. These including everything from text-books to the internet—however people’s main information source remains the mass media, and TV at that.
This fact is deeply regrettable because the main TV networks are owned and run by the ultra-rich, the very same people who are the cause of most of America’s current difficulties.
Information plays a much more significant role is all this than seems to be realized—especially when it is coupled with the disconcerting fact that propaganda works way better than is generally understood (except by the propagandists).
Propaganda is not an absolute—like force. It doesn’t guarantee conformity all the time to its message—but its influence is profound, and if it is carried out effectively, with enough resources behinds it, and repeated often enough, it virtually always influences events—and significantly at that.
As has been demonstrated again and again—people can be persuaded to buy things they neither need nor want, to elect people they don’t like, and to vote against their own interests.
They can also be distracted, diverted, deluded, made fearful—and otherwise be manipulated in the most fundamental ways—without, in many case, appreciating that fact. Above all, critical information can be denied them, They can be—and are—deliberately and knowingly kept ignorant.
A further rather appalling fact is that propaganda is highly effective at destroying trust—a fact that has been used to great effect by the ultra-rich who want people to believe that government is the enemy and only corporations can save the day. Trust in the U.S. government has been virtually destroyed over the last four decades—and cooperation cannot exist without trust.
Propaganda is all the more effective because so many of us delude ourselves that we are not influenced by it—even though the evidence is to the contrary.
Many people, for instance, say that they are not influenced by advertising—even though they clearly are. We are not the rational, clear-thinking, intelligent people that we like to believe. We are also heavily influenced by our emotions, and by what we know—and we rarely know as much as we need to in order to make the most sensible decisions.
We compound the problem by being intellectually lazy, and by relying heavily on prejudices and ideologies (which, frequently are not supported by evidence).
Propaganda includes not just what we are told, but what is withheld. Propaganda is selective, biased, and oriented towards a specific outcome.
We also have a tendency to be suspicious of the unknown, and to gravitate towards the familiar—so name recognition, just in itself, has considerable power.
In fact, the statement: “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” has a great deal of truth to it.
Name recognition is so powerful that completely fair, accurate, and balanced information (if there is such a thing) can serve as propaganda. For that reason, fact-checking, though certainly worth doing and important, has limited utility.
A further point is that if propaganda works as well as I am stating—then freedom of choice (in the sense we generally understand it) is an illusion. On that basis, so is freedom—and democracy (as it is generally understood).
Yes, I appreciate that these are heretical thoughts and offensive to the very marrow of most Americans, but think it through.
Leaving out our own tendencies to research any and all issues far less than we know we should, how can political freedom of choice exist if we are conditioned to the extent that we clearly are—and fed grossly inaccurate information into the bargain?
WHERE AM I GOING WITH ALL THIS?
Essentially,I am endeavoring to provoke discussion about the social structures that underpin the U.S.—because they need to be changed—and can be changed.
If they are not, the ultra-rich will continue to get richer, most Americans will continue to lose ground, and the country, as a whole, will continue to decline (whatever the GDP and other statistics say).
As I have written elsewhere, I have been seriously concerned about the U.S. situation—and have been researching it—for over a decade. But what has really energized me recently is increasing evidence that large numbers of American are, in effect, in despair—and are dying in very large numbers way before their time.
But, the tragedy is that they have every reason to despair.
- The American Dream is dead.
- Trust in government, and many other institutions, has never been lower.
- People of working age are opting out of the labor force in droves. Labor force participation hasn’t been this low for decades.
- Roughly two thirds of the population is living paycheck to paycheck—with virtually no reserves.
- U.S. infrastructure deteriorates by the year—often visibly. The rich are getting ever richer but they block virtually anything that doesn’t benefit them personally. That is greed and nastiness on an epic scale—and it is not the same in other developed countries.
- It is practically impossible for the average person to live without going deeper and deeper into debt.
It has been put to me that as a thriller writer, I shouldn’t write anything that might conceivably offend any of my readers—and saying the U.S. is in decline will, inevitably offend some.
I have a great deal of faith in my readers, based upon literally thousand of reader e-mails, and take the view that:
- Most of you will appreciate that my concerns are genuine.
- If you take the trouble to check you will find that what I am saying is true.
- The current American tragedy is preventable—if remedial action is taken..
- There are times when you have to say and do the right thing—regardless of the costs to one’s career or profit.